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by Gazette staff

Food Forum

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In & Out of the Kitchen: Trendy foods

Dessert trends come and go so quickly these days, it seems, with today’s trendy treat becoming tomorrow’s ho-hum offering seemingly in the blink of an eye.

First there was the cupcake fad. While cupcakes have been around as long as anyone can remember, these single-serve snacks suddenly became the hottest thing around a few years back, with cupcake shops and trucks starting up left and right and innovators pushing the mere frosted cake to new extremes, from delicious to outrageous (Buffalo wing cupcakes, anyone?).

The cupcake shops look to be sticking around for a while, but as a fad cupcakes were handily replaced by their more petite cousin, the cake pop. For a while, cake pops were a novelty, gaining popularity about as much for their uniqueness as for their taste, but now they’ve become commonplace — when a food is added to the menu at Starbucks, you know the shine’s off that apple.

Now, you can even buy a cake pop maker, a waffle-iron-like device that bakes tiny balls of cake. Sure, that’s not at all how you actually make a cake pop, but it’s a ball, it’s cake, you can put it on a stick . . . eh, close enough, the makers of this device must have thought.

Easy to make

Incidentally, cake pops aren’t all that hard to make at home — bake up a cake (from scratch is great, but a boxed mix works fine, too), cool it and crumble it up in a bowl, then dump in a batch of frosting (or a tub of premade) and mix it up. Chill the mixture, then roll it into balls. Melt some chocolate or candy coating (they sell this stuff at most craft stores), dip the end of a stick into it, then shove that end into the ball of cake. Chill again, then dip the whole end of the pop into the melted coating and let dry — you can shove the bare stick ends into a block of Styrofoam to hold them upright, or if you don’t care about flat tops, plop them onto some waxed paper until hardened. Alternately, you can skip the sticks altogether, dip the balls in the coating, let them cool on waxed paper and call them cake balls or cake truffles.

With cake pops falling out of vogue, the pendulum swung toward fancier fare, and macarons stepped in to take their place. Macarons (with one o), not to be confused with macaroons, are a French treat, two meringue cookies with a filling sandwiched in between. They can be rather tricky to make at home, and they’re a bit precious, so they didn’t seem to catch on all that well everywhere, though you can find them sometimes in local bakeries and they’re all over the place in New York City. But they are very delicious, definitely worth a try if you can get your hands on fresh ones or want to try making your own from the abundance of recipes to be found online.

An old favorite

The macaron’s 15 minutes of fame seemed a bit shorter than that, and America then embraced something more common,

again, something a lot of people remember from their childhoods: the whoopie pie. Ah, here’s something we can all make at home! It’s a sandwiched treat like the macaron, but whoopie pies are made from two cakelike cookies with frosting in the middle — really they’re much like cupcakes, except in their form. Our area doesn’t seem to have reached saturation on this trend yet, though it’s already become passé in other areas and online, and, of course, the equipment-makers were quick to capitalize on the pies’ popularity, with special pans to bake them now available (though somewhat unnecessary).

Coconut comes on

So what’s next? The new dominant thing in desserts seems to be not a form but a flavor: coconut.

Oddly enough, this main ingredient in macaroons (that’s with two O’s, the familiar coconut cookies) seems to be everywhere these days. And people aren’t limiting themselves to just the shredded stuff you can buy in a bag, either. Coconut water is rich in potassium, and it’s being hyped as having a whole laundry list of health benefits, though some nutritionists dispute these claims. And coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, meaning that it can stand in for shortening or lard in recipes, as long as you don’t mind the finished product tasting a bit like coconut. It can be a vegan-friendly butter substitute as well.

Of course, one need not be too adventurous to participate in the latest trend. Shredded coconut can be good in cookie recipes, especially if you’re making something with coconut and caramel — Samoas aren’t a best-seller for the Girl Scouts for no reason, after all. Coconut also pairs well with other tropical flavors; try putting some in your next batch of banana bread, or make a basic butter cookie dough and mix in some coconut and chopped macadamia nuts. And you can’t go wrong with a classic coconut cake, its white frosting coated in sweet shreds.

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